Scientists have fabricated what they say are the first self-replicating "robots" ever made from living cells.
These unusual robotic creatures are an "appendage" of what the same researchers discovered last year, when they introduced the world's first robots made entirely of living cells.
Now, Bongard and his associates have taken the next step, giving xenobots the ability to reproduce themselves and create new versions of themselves.
In this case, self-reproduction is not achieved with the kind of reproduction techniques we usually see in biological life forms.
On the contrary, the researchers found that if they placed several of the xenobots in close proximity to each other in a Petri dish, their collective movement began to accumulate other loose frog cells floating next to the solution.
Once several of these cells were stacked together, the pooled pile of about 50 cells became a species of xenobot offspring capable of swimming on its own, thus accumulating its own offspring.
The phenomenon, called spontaneous kinematic self-reproduction, has been observed in the past in other types of molecular machines and models, but never before in living multicellular systems such as xenobots.
To make the self-replicating robots, the researchers extracted powerful stem cells from the skin of an African frog embryo with claws (Xenopus laevis) and incubated them in saline solution, during which some cells attach to an external organism. which allowed him to move.
When a dozen of the first-generation organisms fell into a second dish along with the separated stem cells, the movement of the organisms accumulated the stem cells into piles that formed a new generation of organisms, which then repeated the same cell stacking behavior.
However, the same degraded stem cells left alone in solution did not self-replicate, indicating that they needed the initial movement of the ancestral xenopots to trigger their formation in aggregated organisms.
The fact that this kinematic self-reproduction could occur without genetic modification shows how radically adaptable biological entities and change in response to their environment, the researchers explained in their work.
The team also found that they could enhance the phenomenon by using Artificial Intelligence to simulate conditions that could enhance self-replicating behaviors.
While we are still very much at the beginning of the creation of these robot creatures, the researchers say that unusual organisms could one day do useful work if we can continue to figure out how they work and use them properly.
The findings are reported in PNAS.
Source of information: sciencealert.com